Moving The Glass Mountain

City Recycler Finds New Use For Swelled Stockpiles

Posted: March 16, 2013

HARRISONBURG — A mountain of glass bottles has finally begun to recede at Green Earth’s facility in Harrisonburg, thanks to an arrangement with the Rockingham County landfill.
 
The recycling facility, which serves towns within Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page and Augusta counties, started discontinuing glass collection last spring after the demand for the material plummeted and its stockpile swelled.
 
“Up and down the East Coast there is not a market for glass,” said Victoria Simmons, Green Earth’s executive vice president.
 
The facility is inspected quarterly, Simmons said, and last spring the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality instructed the company that its reserves were piling too high.
 
“Basically, the economy tanked and they had all that material ... [and] they couldn’t use it,” said Graham Simmerman, DEQ’s regional land protection manager. “We can’t allow a glass mountain to stay there indefinitely.”
 
The state requires that a recycling facility use 75 percent of the material it collects each year.
 
“In order for it to be recycling, you have to use that material or it’s not recycling,” Simmerman said.
 
Green Earth subsequently signed a letter of agreement with the DEQ to use its piled stock while also
reducing intake.
 
“If we continued to get more [glass], we were just treading water,” Simmons said.
 
Tapering Only Temporary
 
So Green Earth started to taper glass collection last spring by gradually cutting off customers.
 
Its stockpile decreased enough to resume collection after a few months because of an arrangement with Rockingham County landfill to move crushed glass to cover the packed trash each night.
 
But without knowing when or if collection would resume, towns with which Green Earth did business went scrambling for a recycler to accept glass. 
 
Green Earth contacted Dayton — which had contracted with the company for recycling pickup since 2009 — in early October, around the time the agreement between the parties would expire, said Town Administrator John Crim.
 
“I’m glad they were forthright last fall to tell us the way it was going,” Crim said.
 
The service ended that month, Crim said, and Dayton did not name another collector until Monday, when Town Council voted to contract with Waste Management, its garbage collector, to also pick up recycling, starting in April.
 
Green Earth’s bid included glass pickup, but council said the Waste Management proposal was lower. Waste Management’s bid was $3.15 per bin, of which Dayton has about 650. Green Earth’s bid was $3.25 per bin.
 
Bridgewater — which has collected its own glass and hauled it to Green Earth since January 1999 — was contacted in October and given a deadline of Dec. 1 to find another collector. As of last week, the town has re-signed with Green Earth, according to Kenneth Flick, the town’s director of public works.
 
In the interim, Bridgewater took its glass to the Rockingham County landfill, commingled recyclables — aluminum, plastic and tin — to Harrisonburg’s sorting facility, and its paper and cardboard to Valley Paper in Hinton, town officials said.
 
According to Flick, Bridgewater pays $35 per ton and delivers about 12 tons per month from 2,007 residents.    
 
Timberville was contacted late last year but not given a specific deadline and has continued to deliver its glass to Green Earth, said Austin Garber, the town’s manager.
 
Garber said that the town pays about $30 per ton and delivers 2 to 3 tons per month.
 
Elkton residents found out toward the beginning of the year that Green Earth would not be collecting glass. But Town Manager Kevin Fauber said he received an email March 8 that collection was reinstated.
 
The cost of Elkton’s approximately 350 bins was not immediately available.
 
Grinding Glass Into Gravel
 
Recycling is taking something and turning it into something else, Simmerman said, while reusing is when a product is used again for its original purpose, like a bottle company cleansing and refilling old bottles.
 
Green Earth’s facility is not what most people think of when they think of a recycling facility, he explained, although it does fit the definition.
 
An on-site crusher grinds bottles into a material of varying size that looks like sand or stone. The product is used as filler in “green” buildings, Simmons said, for concrete foundations and driveways, drain fields and roofs.
 
So, when the construction market deteriorated, she said, demand for the product plunged, the glass pile ascended, and Green Earth had to cut off clients.
 
That is until the company hooked up with Rockingham County landfill.
 
The landfill, by law, must cover its trash with 6 inches of nontrash material, such as clay, rock or dirt, at the end of each day, according to Mark Hensley, the landfill’s operations manager, and the glass gravel Green Earth grinds works perfectly.
 
“[It] saves us other material like clay, which we’re running short of,” he said. “It saves them money and it saves us money.”
 
While this use decreases the resources removed from the earth, glass still ends up in a hole.
 
“Ideally, we’d rather see bottles going back into new bottles,” Simmerman said.
 
He would prefer products reused and reforms made to prevent waste production, such as placing a tax on packaging.
 
Still, a product recycled is better than a product wasted, he said. 
 
“It’s a great use for that material,” Simmerman said. “I’m glad people like Green Earth are out there.”
 
Contact Alex Rohr at 574-6293 or arohr@dnronline.com


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